Hardware Guides

We previously published an article that gave a top-level overview of motherboard selection for new PC builds. In this year's revised edition, we'll approach the topic with a bit more depth than previously and will account for Intel's Haswell CPUs and AMD's FX line of CPUs.

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Selecting the best motherboard for your gaming PC build is important to ensure upgradability going forward, access to Haswell/AMD overclocking features, and overall system stability. Chipset selection is tied-at-the-hip with motherboard selection, but if you need help finding the right chipset, check out these previous two articles (Intel - Haswell; AMD - FX).

Toward the final steps of silicon fabrication, individual dies and NAND Flash modules are tested for frequency and voltage tolerance, among other things; the stability (or volatility) of the silicon chip is gauged within a spec range, then the factory bins-out the chip for use in specific product lines. Some chips outperform the target spec, some underperform - this talks about what's done with those units.

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This article will discuss the process of binning-out silicon dies and Flash modules for use in your hardware. Silicon is not created equal, so some units will perform noticeably better than others, and some will far-and-away exceed their expectations. The goal here is to explain why certain products (K-SKU OC editions, for instance) have a higher threshold for frequency and voltage tolerance, have higher overall stability, and run at more thermally-sound temperatures. Is this information going to make your computer faster? No, but it's cool to know, and more importantly, it can inform your purchasing decisions in the future.

Let's dive into it!

In continuing our Haswell coverage (following up from our "is Haswell worth it for gaming?" post), today we visit the topic of the CPU's most intimate counterpart: the Chipset. As more of you begin to evaluate the place for 4th Gen Intel components in your upcoming PC builds, it's important to understand the various chipsets and their inherent use case scenarios. If you're brand new to all of this and aren't even 100% sure what a chipset is, check out this previous article: "What is a Chipset, Anyway?"

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Intel's previous generational tick (IvyBridge), known as the 3rd Gen Intel Cores, operated on the LGA1155 socket with 7-series chipsets. You're all familiar with Z77, Z75, and H77 chipsets at this point, but with the Haswell drop comes the 8-series ("Lynx Point") of chipsets -- and Intel has made a good deal of changes, especially for power and voltage regulation.

In this article, we'll compare Intel's Z87, H87, and H81 Haswell chipsets, talk about the differences, and evaluate what you need for your machine. Let's talk about the major differences between Intel's new family members.

Haswell's officially been out of embargo/NDA for a few days now, TigerDirect has launched its product offerings, and the internet is abuzz about Intel's 4th Gen processors. After reading through the vast majority of reviews on the web, comparing benchmark results, and studying specs, overclocking, and potential shortcomings, we've built up enough confidence to officially comment on the abounding "is Haswell worth it?" question.

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As always, Intel's released around a dozen SKUs of their new CPU, two of which are K-SKU OC chips, the rest are scattered between S-series powersaving or no-suffix "casual" computing. Everything looks great on paper:

AMD's APUs have proliferated with ferocity over the past year or so; now making up about 75% of the company's total chip sales, AMD seems to be investing more seriously in what was previously considered a niche market. We don't suspect just APU sales could support a monolithic company like AMD (at least, not in its current form), but the recent launch of the PS4 and impending promise of an AMD APU-driven Steam Box and Xbox could mean good things for the company.

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We were told at CES by AMD representatives that Steam Box would be operating on A6 and A8 APUs and the PS4 has been officially stated to include a semi-custom Jaguar 8-core APU (heavily INT-optimized with a large-width FPU); the Trinity APUs run a bit too hot for console purposes, making Jaguar a reasonable choice for what have effectively become living room PCs. Let's start this PS4 hardware specs analysis with the APU—Jaguar—and the PS4's top-level specs. We'll then talk about what implications these have on PC gaming and console gaming.

Update: See the CES 2014 edition of this article here.

Update: Our new Buyer's Guide for gaming cases was recently posted. Check out both guides for the biggest case selection range.

CES 2013 was a killer show for enthusiast and mid-range system builders, and with all of the great new content we've posted in the past week, we decided it's time to write a round-up. This post looks at all of the best gaming PC cases due for release in 2013, as revealed at CES. For those looking for advice on how to choose the best computer case for your needs, view our "How to Choose a Gaming Case" article.

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We'll specifically look at mid-tower and full-tower cases here, but a post (by popular request) covering mini-ITX and mATX HTPC-grade cases will follow. Let's get to the products and photos!

For most of you out there, the primary goal of building a custom gaming PC is related to performance: benchmarking, overclocking, gaming, and hardware enthusiasm are all aspects of this. As we discussed in our recent post about how CPU coolers work, more performance generates more heat, requiring hardware manufacturers to invest in better cooling technology.

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The major downside to high-end, no-limits cooling is increased noise, but you can overcome loud fans and get the same, if not better cooling performance by considering incremental and optimized upgrades to your cooling setup. Given the right tools, it's not too hard to reduce the noise of your screaming rig to a low hum that you won't even hear when gaming.

This silent gaming PC guide will cover quiet case fans, bearing types, quiet CPU coolers, GPU cooling upgrades, and tips on how to make your PC less noisy. We will not be covering open loop liquid cooling (custom liquid loops) in this article due to its complexity -- that's best left for a future guide.

Hey everyone -- thought I'd do something a bit different. Rather than write a lengthy, highly-researched article (like the recent CPU cooler analysis and Star Citizen posts), I figured I'd take some time to share my upcoming project with you all.

I'm working on building my own mini-gaming HTPC that will serve as a DVR and console replacement; the primary objective is to consolidate the mess of boxes presently in the living room. The GN team is working to write a comprehensive guide on the subject of building a custom DVR / HTPC, but in order to do so, we must first make the journey ourselves. I'll be logging all of my progress regularly in quick updates, and once we've got all the kinks worked out, we'll post the full guide with all the necessary resources to do this yourselves. My hope is to save you all the challenges I will inevitably face by uncovering them myself.

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SSDs are a hot item right now. In our interview with Star Citizen's Chris Roberts, we were told that he sees SSD and multicore utilization coming to the forefront for PC-exclusive games, and it makes sense. Not only will an SSD decrease the load times and increase fluidity of experience for games that stream data (heavily dominated by 4K I/O transactions streamed to memory), they also significantly decrease boot time and make for a more responsive OS.

This Holiday / Xmas SSD Buyer's Guide lists the best SSDs of 2012 (and the hangers-on from 2011) that we've worked with; the drives below have been picked for high-end enthusiast users, everyday / gaming users, and budget users.

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We briefly covered CPU cooler engineering in our Tuniq Tower 120 review, and in continuing that topic, this post will discuss various cooler designs that pervade the market and which are best for you.

Picking the best CPU cooler / heatsink for your gaming rig is important if you're planning to keep things quiet or overclock your system; we'll cover noise level, cooling efficiency, and top-level thermal dissipation strategies for aftermarket coolers in this article.

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In addition to our own research and benchmarking, we reached out to Edmund Li of Zalman for help understanding some cooler design elements, so a big thanks to him for his time and knowledge. Let's cover how a heatsink works before anything else.

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